When it comes to American Christianity, we often see the worst in ourselves. We’re cynical, overly critical and depressed about our shortcomings. Apocalyptic sermons warn us that the end is near, and we’re continually reminded of our depravity. But American Christianity has some distinctly great characteristics. Here are the main ones:
This piece was originally published on Redletterchristians.org; part of a two-part series (the worst aspects of American Christianity will be posted here later).
While some may argue that our religious freedoms and civil liberties are becoming increasingly restricted, or that a lack of persecution has created a “weak” and “untested” faith, the fact remains that American Christians have the privilege of living within a country that allows us worship and live out our faith in a relatively unhindered manner. This is an amazing blessing we take for granted—pray for those who don’t have this luxury.
For decades people have been prophesying about American Christianity’s demise. Church attendance is dropping, our culture is becoming increasingly immoral and the president is probably the Antichrist. Various pundits, experts and research groups have seemingly made a living predicting American Christianity’s downfall, and yet, while Christianity has become extinct in numerous parts of the world, it continues to live on—and sometimes thrive—within the United States.
Unlike Europe, where a few institutionalized denominations represented entire populations, American Christians are characterized by their variety. In the face of adversity, the American church adapts, evolves, rebrands and adjusts—always plodding on.
It’s often filled with strife, conflict and pain, but one of American Christianity’s greatest strengths is its diversity, where the differences are as varied and extreme as the array of people that represent them. Theologies and beliefs are splintered into millions of different denominations, churches, institutions, organizations, sects and communities—even people that attend the exact same church can have radically different ideologies. There is a Christian niche for almost everyone.
There are faith communities for those who are conservative or liberal, egalitarian or complementarian, Calvinist or Armenian, traditional or modern, young or old, Norwegian or Cuban—you get the point. We often view are differences as a bad thing, as a sign of disunity and mistrust, but we serve as a sort of system of checks and balances. American Christianity is a beautiful patchwork of unique characteristics, all united in Christ, challenging each other, holding each other accountable and complementing our various strengths and weaknesses.
Because of this strong variation, there has been no silver-bullet that has killed American Christianity. For every church that dies off, another is reborn. Even today as many denominations see decreasing attendance, others see growth, and lately there has even been a revival within the home church movement.
Diversity lends itself to inclusiveness. There are no distinct set of rules and regulations about who is allowed to be an American Christian and who is not. There is no one institution or power that controls who is “in” or “out.” You don’t have to sign a document, pass a test or forcibly pay taxes.
Sure, there are churches like Westboro Baptist that are hate-filled and exclusive, but there are millions of loving and accepting faith communities within the United States. Whatever ethnic, cultural, political, social and demographic background you come from, the American church has a community tailored for you.
4) Adaptability and Innovation
Freedom, diversity and inclusiveness allow for adaptability and innovation. As our culture constantly changes, American Christians adapt and innovate. It’s not pretty, and it often includes divisions, debates, infighting and stress. But the distinctly American attributes of independence, consumerism and survivability has allowed—and enabled—Christians the freedom to change.
Even within the last few years many churches and denominations have officially changed their theologies relating to homosexuality, women in leadership, war, gender roles and other political and social issues. American Christians are willing to try new things, from the form of our worship music to the technology behind our pastor’s sermon presentations, American Christians are constantly evolving.
Adaptation has lead to increased accessibility. Our best pastors, theologians and leaders are available to us via books, seminars, retreats, websites, podcasts, blogs, videos and a litany of other forms of media. Almost every church now has a web platform, and sermons can be heard from anywhere, worship songs can be streamed online, conversations can happen through cyberspace, Christian seminaries and parachurch organizations offer free online courses, and websites keep us updated with the latest news and trends.
American Christianity is now vastly interconnected and has created its own subculture, accessible through the web, television, radio, film, books, albums, laptops, tablets and smartphone apps. Through an endless variety of these venues we are able to learn, grow, worship, fellowship, ask questions, debate and ultimately mature in our faith.
6) Opportunity and Resources
Because of this vast accessibility, we have increased opportunities and resources that allow us to serve, minister, lead, sacrifice, worship, pray and follow Christ’s example in unique ways. American Christians can start their own blogs, travel overseas, volunteer locally, receive an education, donate money and food and clothing, write books, create art, start their own ministries, fill out a few papers and start their own non-profit organizations and do an endless array of other things that are considered luxuries in other parts of the world. W can often be apathetic to the wonderful opportunities that surround us.
As American Christians, we tend to view our cultural identity through the lenses of either self-deprecation or pious elitism. We are a paradox of both good and bad, but we need to remember our good side. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the story of a master who entrusts his servants with possessions and tells them to be good stewards—we need to do the same with our faith. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away (Matt, 25: 29 NLT).
American Christianity has many great traits, and let’s pray that we utilize them to the best of our ability, always striving to glorify Christ and follow His perfect example.